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The Anodyne Necklace(6)

By:Martha Grimes



"Interesting, isn't it? Much more difficult for forensics than ink or typewriter impressions. They haven't come up with anything yet."

Jury opened and read the first, written in green crayon, to a Miss Polly Praed, Sunnybank Cottage. "It would appear Miss Praed has been getting up to all sorts of mischief without ever leaving her home. Gin. Dope." He set it aside and picked up the second, this one in orange, to a Ramona Wey. "Not very long, are they?"

"And not very naughty, either, except for the ones to Augusta Craigie and Dr. Riddley. Hard to write for very long in crayon."

Augusta Craigie's letter was done in purple. "Miss Craigie gets around, doesn't she? So far three different men have been cited here, in various states of dress and undress."

Peter Gere smiled. "If you knew Augusta-that's Ernestine's sister-you'd see it's very unlikely. She was rather proud of her letter, I'd say. We were wondering if perhaps she was the writer just so's she could send one to herself."

"It's not usual to do that," said Jury. "Seems a thin motive for writing all the others. Poison pen letter-writers usually get a sense of power from controlling other people's lives, like a voyeur or an obscene telephone caller." Jury opened the next one. "You got one, Peter, I see."

Blushing, Gere scratched his neck with the stem of his pipe. "Pretty dull. Done in gray, which is all my personal life deserves, I guess. ‘Skulduggery'-there's an old-fashioned word for you-when I was working for LT."

Carstairs clucked his tongue at Peter in mock reproof. "The one to Riddley is a dandy. He's the local medic, young chap and attractive. Blue." Carstairs picked it out of the pile.

Jury read the detailed description of what Dr. Riddley was doing with Ramona Wey. "Is she that sexy?"

"Good-looking," said Peter, "but a bit of an iceberg. She runs an antiques business in Hertfield."

There were no addresses on the envelopes, only names. All of the letters had been stuffed in the one brown envelope and sent along to the local post office.

"So who got this lot?"

"Mrs. Pennystevens. Well, of course she thought it damned odd, but she just handed them over to the various locals when they came in for bread or stamps. She said she thought they must be party invitations, or something."

"Some party," said Wiggins, who was reddening up a bit as he scanned them.

"Ordinary Crayolas you could find in any W. H. Smith's or any home with kiddies in it."

"Or without kiddies." Peter Gere opened the side drawer of the desk and took out some stubs of crayons and a couple of coloring books which he tossed on the table. "Not mine, actually. They belong to a little girl here. Has a passion for coloring, Emily does. She leaves the damned things everywhere. I found these on the window ledge."

Jury shook his head as he reread the letter to Augusta Craigie. "These letters don't ring true."

Carstairs looked at him. "Meaning?"

"Meaning I don't believe them." He tossed the letter on the table. "They're like a game or something. They don't even sound serious."

"People round here are taking them seriously, believe me," said Peter.

Carstairs looked at his watch, set down his cold coffee cup. "Look, I've got to get back to Hertfield station. Anything I can do to help, let me know, Superintendent. We can have a mobile unit over here immediately, if you like. I only thought, that since Hertfield's so close-"

"That's fine. Just keep your men searching that wood."

Carstairs nodded, raised two fingers to his cap in a mock military salute and said, "Thanks for the coffee, Peter. You still make it out of steel shavings, I see." He smiled and was gone.
 
 

 



The packet of letters lay on the desk. Jury spread them out. "A veritable rainbow of poison-pennery. This girl that got murdered. Do you think there's any relationship between these and her?"

"I don't see how," said Peter Gere. "I hadn't thought of it, I expect. Are you talking about blackmail?"

"No. That wouldn't be a very lucrative way of operating, would it? To publish the sins and then try and collect."

Wiggins came out of the collar of his overcoat, where he must have been turning things over in his chilly way. "You know, it doesn't seem to me that ticket stub in her coat proves she was a Londoner. It could have been put there by someone else to make us think she was from London."

Gere touched the brown envelope. "These were mailed in Hertfield the Tuesday before last. But that doesn't prove a damned thing. What you say is possible, of course."

Wiggins went on to expound his theory. "Seems odd to me, the murderer having taken the rest of the identification and not going through the pockets."

"It was down in the lining, remember. Slipped through," said Jury.

Wiggins thought for a moment. "It's even possible, you know, it wasn't her coat."

"Why do you say that?"

"Well, there she was all tarted up in that green dress and eyeshadow you could take a shovel to"-Wiggins's tone was disapproving-"and all that costume jewelry. That black cloth coat doesn't fit the picture, does it?"

Both Wiggins and Gere continued to weave out of beautiful whole cloth their black-cloth-coat theory. Jury left them to it, assuming all the while that the ticket was just what it said: she'd come down from London and meant to go back that day.

Jury had a lot of respect for provincial police forces. Their incorruptibility was almost legendary. Some of their detractors in the M.P.D. liked to call them a "bunch of effing swedes," but that, to Jury, was sour grapes. He had still not gotten over the trials and imprisonments of some of his colleagues a decade ago. He was not naïve, of course; but he supposed he was a trifle romantic. He believed in the verities: Queen, country, and the football pools. He looked at Peter Gere, the village bobby, and felt a real respect. Still, it was difficult working over someone else's patch.

It was a pleasant patch, though, he thought as he tilted back his chair and looked out at Littlebourne Green. Not even the police descending on it seemed to have wakened the village from its golden September dream. The High seemed isolated from the violence that had invaded the wood beyond, like a stone heaved through a sunny window. Across the Green, an old man shuffled out of the single pub, the Bold Blue Boy. Farther along a woman with a basket over her arm went into a sweet shop. Only the cluster of three villagers who seemed to have collided in the middle of the Green was proof that something was going on, for there was much gesticulating and pointing toward the station.

No, not three, four villagers. A little girl emerged from the group and stood staring at the station or the C.I.D. car or both.

Jury was half-listening to Wiggins and Gere. The murdered woman was no local, he was sure. She fairly screamed London. He had seen dozens of her up and down Oxford and Regent Streets. Why not look for the simplest explanation?

While Jury watched the little girl with the straggly blond hair start a side-wise sort of dancing step, he said to the voices behind him, "Maybe so. But in that case, where's her coat?"

That the original coat would have to be accounted for seemed not to have occurred to them. Neither one answered.

Sunlight was painting lemon stripes across the floor through the venetian blind. Jury looked out again at the Green. The clutch of villagers had diminished by two, leaving the older man and the little girl. He had detached himself from the child and was walking purposefully across the High toward the station. The little girl followed, but at a distance. He was dressed in plus-fours; she was wearing a hacking jacket, too short in the sleeves.

"Do you think we could be going to the pub, sir?" asked Wiggins, rather plaintively. "That wood was awful wet."

"Sure. But who's this coming up the walk, Peter?"



A consortium of thrushes, busy up to that point with a discarded crust on the walk, thronged the air above the elderly man's head as if they meant to build their nest there. Jury watched him beat at them with his stick. His broad face and chest appeared gargoylelike in the pane of the door before he ushered himself in like a stiff September breeze.

"Peter! This is preposterous! I have been given to understand someone has been found dead in the Horndean wood!" The tone suggested that the local constabulary had better be quick off the mark in explaining this nonsense, or he would hold them strictly accountable.

Jury recognized in Sir Miles Bodenheim (introduced to Jury with noticeable lack of enthusiasm by Gere) the sort of village gentry which has nothing to do with its time other than to take itself very seriously. "Did you have some information you thought relevant, Sir Miles?"

"I know nothing, except I cannot understand why police find it necessary to cut across my south pasture. They're slogging about over my property as if they owned it."

"Is your property near the Horndean wood, then?" asked Jury.

"It certainly is. Borders it, as a matter of fact. Rookswood has quite extensive grounds."

"On the night before last, did you happen to see or hear anything unusual?"

Miles Bodenheim smirked. "Only Miss Wey in Dr. Riddley's office. Seems a bit late for an appointment, wouldn't you say?"

Wiggins had his notebook out. "What time was that, sir?"

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